The Focke-Wulf Fw 190

One of the most feared fighter planes that faced the allies is also one of the most rare planes that exists today. The Focke Wulf Fw 190 was a fearsome opponent to allied aircraft on the European and Soviet fronts. The Focke Wulf made aces out of both German pilots and allied. The Focke Wulf 190 and it’s counterpart the Messerschmitt Bf 109 were the two primary fighters of the Luftwaffe’s Jagdwaffe (Fighter Force) until the it was proven that the greater carrying capacity of the Fw 190 could be used as a ground attack plane in which it was then implemented in the Schlachtgeschwader (Battle Wings or Strike Wings) in the Eastern front. The Focke Wulf first flew in 1939 and was introduced in 1941 to the Luftwaffe and stayed in service in Germany until 1945 and then retired from Turkey in 1949.


In the first couple of years of service the Fw 190 was the best in the sky at low and medium altitude. Then in July 1942 the British introduced the improved Spitfire Mk.IX which was a better performing aircraft. The German pilots believed that the Fw 190 with its twin-row BMW 801 radial engine was still more powerful and maneuverable at low and medium altitudes then it’s counterparts but the Messerschmitt Bf 109 remained in service nonetheless. In 1944 the Focke Wulf Fw 190D was equipped with a Junkers Jumo 213 inline-engine which made it on par with allied fighters but due to the attrition rate from allied fighters and strategic bombing, by 1944 there wasn’t enough skilled pilots left to fly mass numbers of these improved Fw 190’s.


One of the most unique features of the Fw 190 is it’s enlarged frontal nose and narrow fuselage. It was a wide spread belief throughout Europe that radial engines didn’t belong in land based fighters as they created too much drag on the plane. However, Kurt Tank the designer for the Fw 190 wanted to prove those beliefs wrong having seen radial engines being used on Navy planes with great success. Air flow had to be maximized on the outer edges on the radial engine in order to properly cool the cylinder heads. This proved to be one of the greatest challenges. The engineering of the Focke Wulf was said to be a head of it’s time using many engineering methods that would be used later in other planes.


The Fw 190 went through numerous variants as its roles throughout the German Luftwaffe became more dispersed. From photo recon to ground attack this plane was everywhere that the Luftwaffe was. Sadly, less then thirty original examples of this plane remain in museums or private hands. Numerous replica examples exist due in part by the company Flug Werk GmbH which in 1997 started making reproduction Fw 190’s. A Fw 190 A-5 / U3 (Werknummer 151227) crashed in a marsh 1943 in Saint Petersburg, Russia nearly intact and was found in 1989. It flew in 2010 before being trucked to Washington where in 2011 it became a part of the Flying Heritage Collection.


All the images here are of Planes of Fame Fw 190 replica Focke Wulf. This particular example can be seen all over as it is consistently being flown to show what the allies were fighting in the skies over Europe. Few examples fly today but thankfully with the help of some groups, examples like this one can be seen. These shots were taken at the Planes of Fame Airshow over the last couple of years where for two days a gathering of historic warbirds come out from all theaters and years. The top image is from Oshkosh back in 2011.

Images captured with Nikon D4, D3, 70-300 VR, 24-70 AF-S, 70-200 VRII, 200-400VR on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

How Big Does the Subject Need to Be

The more you shoot the more the rules or guidelines tend to fade away and become second nature. It’s not that they are forgotten merely used to the point that we don’t think about it when shooting. One of those things we tend not to forget about or at least we shouldn’t is how much of the subject fills the frame and the story that creates.

I put up these images for that exact reason. These were taken two years ago, amazing how time flies, down in Mesa, AZ. The plane is a Commander Shrike, a really cool plane that has been used mostly as a luxury aircraft for business folk but also as an acrobatic plane. This particular was owned bu Robert Odegaard and is seen being flown by his son Casey. Yes that it is Mom in the copilot seat. The differences in the shots are a matter of feet. From being 30ft to 100ft away makes all the difference in the overall story. We were lucky this morning in having great clouds which added to the drama.

Both images tell two sides of the same story. From the sleek, luxuoris, comfortable ride to the always fun to fly speed machine.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, TC-17E, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Shrike Takes To The Sky!

After Saturday afternoons shoot with the B17 and P51’s, we were all looking forward to whatever surprises might be in stock Sunday morning. Sunday is always a bit of a mystery because we never are quite sure who would be flying that morning. It’s better to have new planes but the ones we had last November, the Bobat, Stinson, Steerman, RV-8, and Bonanza, were all great to work with, so it would not have been an issue to photograph any of them again. As fate had it we had two new planes and the Steerman, Red Baron, to work with that morning. The first one up was Bob’s Commander Shrike.

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The Commander series began in 1967 and has been carried on since then. After 1970 the Commanders became known as the Shrike Commanders. Great plane, flying with it was even better than the static shots we did earlier that morning. We started off this time by dragging it along the runway and almost immediately after we were up together the Shrike went screaming below us and all we saw was its tail for a moment. Casey had to quickly reduce power to keep with us at a safe distance.

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At first we weren’t sure if the Sunday morning flight was going to happen because the weather had closed in and it was raining. Thankfully after about 45mins of waiting that morning the clouds broke and the rain stopped where we were going to fly. It turned out to be one of those spectacular shoots because we were able to fly in the clouds which rarely happens. It was just amazing! The clouds provided a whole new background and lighting situation for us to work with. With the clouds any buildings, roads, or power lines disappeared, which is always good. The light became just pockets sometimes it was bright sometimes it was dark, it didn’t matter either way it was all good!

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The nice thing about shooting against clouds is that it’s easy to remove the skyvan sides. Being in the back of the skyvan there are occasions when the image is great but the corners of the skyvan get in the way. The skyvan does have a narrow field of vision when it comes to being close to the cockpit. With CS5 it’s real easy to remove those corners in the situations. It’s never fun to miss those shots and since it’s not a critter in my mind it’s alright to do such work on an image because it’s not a natural element in its natural habitat. It’s less documentation more emotional response much like a landscape. Of course it’s funny to say that knowing that planes don’t last forever, air frames decay, engines break down, eventually sadly they die. In a way this is documenting their life spans.

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The 30mins we had with the Shrike went by to fast, as did the weather. It’s safe to say that none of us wanted that pane to land after such an amazing shoot. The next planes up that we photographed didn’t suck by any means but the weather as it normally does, changed.

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Images captured with Nikon D3, 70-300 Vr, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Air 2 Air CAF Arizona Wing

I have been very fortunate over my years and this past weekend proved to be another sign of that good fortune. This past November Dad and Richard Vandermuelen started the Air2Air workshop with the first location in Phoenix, AZ at the Commemorative Air Force Museum. It was a great event with the climax being the photo shoot with the B17, two mustangs and spitfire. This past weekend we started the second Air2Air workshop. It was great being with the planes and the people again. It was just as exciting this time as it was the first time seeing that beautiful B17 sitting in the tarmac. We arrived very early Friday morning, got a few hours sleep then headed over to the Museum to say hello. Just getting a feel for the place again. Saturday morning kicked off the event and it was one spectacular morning!

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Always love those 5:20 wake ups to go out shooting before sunrise, but that’s what it takes to get those great shots. Saturday morning we had as i said a spectacular sunrise! The skies were just lit up as far as the eye could see. Sentimental Journey was pulled out in front of the hanger shinning like it would never stop. It’s a beautiful bird that CAF does a remarkable job keeping it looking so good. Especially since most of the people at CAF are volunteers who truly love the planes and the history. A little bit later on in the morning, after the drama had subsided a bit, i found myself parked on the tarmac looking up at the B25 that had an interesting cloud and feint glow behind it. Yes that’s right, laying down on that dirty, oily asphalt. Why do this you might ask? Well partly to condense the background and foreground giving a cleaner look which is important when dealing with airports. The other reason is now one is looking up at the plane, not down, making it appear bigger and sexier.

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With the cloud cover we had that morning, once the sun rose it wasn’t able to pop through the clouds. It tried really hard to be seen but there wasn’t much romantic light, it disappeared fast leaving flat light. This wasn’t a bad thing, it’s still workable, the planes just don’t look as good. Light is essential with everything in this business and with planes the light bounces like crazy. The planes are made of aluminum so any light source will bounce of the sides painted or polished. As you can see with the one above and below with overcast skies the light is kinda boring. What seems to work well when that happens is too exaggerate it a bit more than it was to give a gloomy, whats going to happen look. I suppose that’s a personal taste but in a lot cases it works. This plane is the Shrike Commander, a great plane belonging to Bob Odegard who was kind enough to let us photograph it along with a couple other of his planes.

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This plane just a great look. A curved belly, twin engines, and the almost 180 degree tail make for some dynamic shooting. Close up or wide the plane looks good. I have always liked vertical nose to tail shots they remind me of photographing birds of prey when they are starring right at you. Just that same powerful stare. With the skies being what they were at this point i didn’t go vertical, i preferred to eliminate the sky until a whole opened up. Which so happened it did.

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A nice little patch of blue opened up behind the B25 out towards the mountains so it was time to switch focus again to that great bird. This time it was closeups with the 70-200 getting the symmetrical shots of the tails, props and the nose. That’s the great thing about planes symmetry is easily achieved and can really make for great shots. Of course if the ground isn’t level where the plane is parked then you might have to be careful about what degree you’re holding the camera body. Easy thing to fix in post nowadays but i always try to get it right in the camera.

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The morning was winding down, light wasn’t too great at that point and our stomachs were starting to rumble. With a few last pics of the B25 i started to head in. Off to breakfast than back to the hanger for classroom time with the instructors and pilots. Classroom consisted of photographing the planes, compositions and what to look for when doing Air2Air. Richard who has years of experience in this field explained in great detail things to expect and things to try to achieve. Doug Rosendaal our formation pilot went into the safety issues that are presented when doing and Air2Air shoot and what the photographer needs to know in order to help the pilots. It was a great combination of knowledge that was essential for everyone to hear in order to get better and be safe. Whoow my head hurts time to go back to shooting!

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We got our camera gear, harnesses and tethers, then headed back to the hanger for the preflight briefing. I’m gonna stop here because i don’t wanna give away the next part it’s just so good you’re just gonna have to wait till tomorrow to see what happened. I will say that this was the last look back before i got into the Shorts Skyvan ready to fly yet again with that beautiful bomber.

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Images Captured with Nikon D3, 24-70, 70-200 VrII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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